Help me pack a lunch for the whole week.
October 23, 2010 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Packing lunch with two restrictions: weekly bringing, and an office fridge that freezes things regularly.

We definitely have a roach problem at the office, and I won't be surprised if the mice move in next. We have a microwave and a toaster (not a toaster oven, just a 2 slices of bread toaster). About 30 people are currently using the kitchen area, with 7 new hires expected in the next few weeks.

The fridge has frozen my container of cream cheese, which takes on a fairly gross texture after being frozen, I find most cheeses utterly disgusting after freezing, and I don't care whether they're safe to eat after they've been frozen.

Since day one I've been bringing a bag of frozen peach slices and portioning them into a small container to thaw for snack time, a bag gets me four me sized servings. I've brought a chicken thing and mix it up with vegetables. One week I brought pot roast in individual containers on each day.

My bus commute is an hour each way (to go 6 miles. Thanks south Florida!) with about a mile of walking in the morning. Because the bus is often crowded I'd prefer to bring one bag with lunch for the week in it and then not think about it until the next Monday.

I loved a previous lunch suggestion of crackers with cheese and other assorted things. But as above, cheese does not jive with this fridge.

Please, get me fed without boring the snot out of me. My job is kinda soul-less, so I really look forward to lunch and I want to keep it exciting. But I'm so exhausted when I leave there that I can't think of anything for the next day. Also, not being able to get to the grocery on a weeknight dampens my enthusiasm for daily lunch packing.
posted by bilabial to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It'd take a few months of weekly cooking to build up a stash with variety, but make a pot of soup and freeze it in meal sized portions. Grab 5 assorted soups at the start of every week, and there you. Soup can equal chili, etc. as well. Or lasagna frozen in individual portions.

Is turning the fridge down not an option?
posted by mollymayhem at 7:17 PM on October 23, 2010

Well, it's not world-shattering exciting, but I keep cans of soups that I really like in the overhead at my cube, and a good sliced bread in the freezer. I put the soup in a micro-safe bowl and heat it while a slice (or two) of bread toasts in the toaster. I don't have to think about anything but keeping the overhead and freezer stocked. Works for me.
posted by Dolley at 7:19 PM on October 23, 2010

I tend to cook once a week and then bring in five days of leftovers for lunch (with fruit and nuts and hard-boiled eggs for snacks). Your pot roast was a good idea because it microwaves well - I like soups and stews, curries and enchiladas, largely because those are all one pot/dish meals that (can) freeze and microwave tastily.
posted by ldthomps at 7:20 PM on October 23, 2010

Jambalaya! It's easy to make, reheats well (tastes better the second day, too), and flexible. I usually make it roughly like this:

2 cups uncooked long grain rice
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3-4 stalks celery, cut into approx. 1/4 inch slices
1 medium green pepper, diced
2 smallish or 1 medium-to-large tomato (optional), diced
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
protein of your choice (I often do 1 large chicken breast, 2 links andouille sausage, and a handful of shrimp), cut into small pieces; meat can be cooked separately and added toward end (see below)
2 tbsp tomato paste
~2tbsp cajun seasoning
tabasco sauce or other hot sauce (to taste)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in large pot with a lid, medium to medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, and pepper and cook until onion is translucent. A few minutes in, add the tomato paste to let it brown a bit. Add the minced garlic and tomato when the onion just starts to be translucent, and saute for 4-6 more minutes. Add the stock, seasonings, worcestershire, and hot sauce to taste (this is where you taste the mixture for flavor, before adding the rice). Bring to a boil and add the rice, reduce to simmer, and cook until rice absorbs the liquid -- usually 15-20 minutes. If you're adding (cooked) protein, add it in the last few minutes of cooking the rice. Shrimp can be added raw, it will cook pretty quickly.
posted by axiom at 7:31 PM on October 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

If at all possible, look into getting your own dorm-fridge for your office / cube / area. They're cheap on craigslist.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:32 PM on October 23, 2010

Response by poster: We're talking about an office with 30 people, many of whom put their soft sided lunch coolers into the fridge, I am not going to rock the boat by asking about changing settings. I'm still the newby, and more than 5 people have commented that I 'eat very well' or am 'the one that keeps bringing vegetables.' I'm trying to enjoy my lunch without seeming any more...stuck up.... than I already do to people who don't actually interact with me. (and frankly, if you read my previous questions here, it's clear that I am a bit stuck up. I don't mean to be. I don't think I'm better than other people, but I'm not interested in walking over to the gas station to pick up a slim jim and some doritos for lunch. Home cooked food pleases me immensely, and some of my coworkers are disoriented by that.)

Also; the freezer is empty, save for my bag of peach slices and an occasional tv dinner. I'd like to take advantage of that, because putting something big in the fridge part will kill the real estate for everyone else.
posted by bilabial at 7:34 PM on October 23, 2010

Response by poster: And my cube is really the size of a desk. This is a phone farm. I don't even get a filing cabinet. Frown.
posted by bilabial at 7:36 PM on October 23, 2010

Most cheese doesn't need to be refrigerated. There's your solution.
posted by oddovid at 8:05 PM on October 23, 2010

How about using the microwave to cook? I keep a box of couscous in my desk and take roasted veggies in. I also add a little extra olive oil with my veggies at home so that the couscous isn't too dry. The couscous takes about as much time to microwave as the veggies do. Quick, delicious, easy.

I, too, am the person who gets those comments at work. I'm considered the one who is "serious about her food."
posted by inmediasres at 8:17 PM on October 23, 2010

Most cheese doesn't need to be refrigerated. There's your solution.
Except for the roach/mouse issue. I suppose you could devise a pest proof container, but the desk space is limited.

I like the idea of making a variety of meals to bring in. We did frozen burritos, they reheat well and are tasty. Is there no cabinet space in the kitchen? Could you bring in a few cans of soup, labeled with your name if necessary? Of course, homemade soup in the freezer is better.
posted by purpletangerine at 9:01 PM on October 23, 2010

Can't you just turn down the fridge without mentioning it to anyone? Also, the bottom sections or cooler drawers tend to get less cold. Could you stake a claim to a spot near the bottom?

Otherwise, freezing individual portions sounds like a great idea. Pyrex makes glass dishes with Tupperware-type lids, which will work well in the microwave.
posted by apricot at 9:32 PM on October 23, 2010

I keep tasty canned things in my office so I can shop for them once a month and I don't have to worry about taking up fridge space.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:32 PM on October 23, 2010

I third turning down the fridge without saying anything. Surely, if people wanted their things frozen, they'd put them in the freezer.
posted by zug at 10:44 PM on October 23, 2010

Turn down the fridge without saying anything. My office moved to a different floor and the new fridge came with the temperature setting on high, it was freezing soda for goodness sakes. I put the setting two notches down and it's fine now.

I did hear someone say how nice it was that the refrigerator was finally working properly. ha!

I have been bringing pot roast, chicken with beans, and chili in individual ziploc bags, and yes it's a source of wonderment to the entire office. The money still left in my bank account at the end of the week makes up for any snide comments though.
posted by lootie777 at 3:18 AM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: Frozen veggies are one of the things I tend to live on. My favorites are petite peas, broccoli, peppers and the stir-fry mixes that have snap peas and the teeny corn in them. The great thing about them (to me) is that they don't require anything but the microwave to be cooked straight from the bag (I put them in Tupperware-like containers that have a steam vent), and can have any variety of sauces and meats added.

You can freeze sauces in ice cube trays, then pop one or two cubes into a container that already contains frozen vegetables and frozen meat (like chicken strips, let's say). It's basically the same idea as some pre-packaged frozen dinners...the components are frozen separately, then thrown together in the same container, to cook all at once, but the sauce doesn't cause the vegetables or meat to break down while being frozen and thawed, because they're all individual units.

I made that sound complicated. It's really easy. Bag o'broccoli. Ice cube of teryaki sauce. Chicken strips. Throw in Tupperware and freeze. Take out, nuke, eat!
posted by xingcat at 6:21 AM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: Homemade frozen burritos

I have to admit that I've never made these myself, but some of my coworkers have (although I'm not sure the exact recipe noted; I'm sure they have their spices done to taste) and they smell good. They reheat them by wrapping in a paper towel and microwaving.

You could probably do quite a lot of things in that vein.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:17 AM on October 24, 2010

Just to add this since it hasn't been mentioned: Have you ever considered buying frozen meals? I had never thought of this before, but because of the convenience I gave it a try. Now I buy a few when they go on sale and it's actually kind of nice. If it's not out of your price range, these Kashi frozen lunches are surprisingly good, and I think work out okay for $3-4 each (Target usually has the best price). I also take lean cuisine pasta occasionally, such as ravioli or this butternut squash one.

A lot of these boxed meals aren't that good for you, but there are definitely a few that aren't bad. You can even keep one in a lunch box at your desk along with some grapes, cheese and crackers, etc., and it will keep everything cold (you'd just microwave the boxed lunch for half the recommended time since it will have thawed a little). These would also travel well during your morning commute.
posted by belau at 8:42 AM on October 24, 2010

What lootie777 said. I am Mister Cold, seriously. When I am drinking beer in a restaurant or pub, I usually request that they fill a beer glass with ice and water, and have them bring me the frosted glass with my new beer. If I order a beer in a bar and it isn't ice-cold I will send it back. In the summer-time, I will often pour 1/2 of a beer into a frosted glass, and leave the remainder in the fridge. So trust me on this. Don't even ask, just back the temperature control in that puppy back a notch or two. No one will notice, or if they they do, they will be happy. Even I adjust the temperature in my fridge to the point that it just freezes milk, and then I back it off a notch. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if it was cleaned at some point in the past and someone cranked it all the way up to speed up the cooling, process and forgot about it.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:59 PM on October 24, 2010

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